The Indiana Pacers just beat the Detroit Pistons by 23 points. At first glance, this may not seem like a big deal, as the Pistons are one of the worst teams in the league, and the Pacers have the best offense in the NBA.
However, taking a look at the box score and game footage, you will see a pattern that has been uncommon for the Pacers in recent games. While the fourth quarter Pacers' run was sparked partially due to incredible offensive output and scoring, a big chunk of it came from an unexpected source this year: Defensive contributions.
In the fourth quarter, despite shooting well all game, the Pistons were held to only 17 points on 35% from the field and 0/4 from three-point range, while the Pacers scored 39 points on fantastic efficiency.
In the 15 games the Pacers have played, including the Detroit game, Friday's fourth quarter ranks as one of the best defensive stretches they have had if not the best overall.
Unlike outings from the past, the Pacers were poised and focused on the defensive end, contesting shots if not blocking them, forcing turnovers, and making life difficult for the Pistons and making any hopes of a Pistons win impossible.
There were many factors that contributed to this defensive improvement in the fourth, but it comes down to four players who stepped up when the going got tough and locked down when their time came, those players being Andrew Nembhard, Bennedict Mathurin, Myles Turner, and Bruce Brown.
Starting with Mathurin, while he didn't have the most gaudy stat totals, he still came up big when it mattered, getting a huge steal down the stretch, which led to a Turner dunk on the other end.
Speaking of Turner, he was also fantastic, blocking two shots, getting one steal, and grabbing a whopping seven rebounds to help Indiana in their offensive rebounding battle, which they won despite only grabbing two at halftime compared to Detroit's 11.
Andrew Nembhard was also a key factor, playing in his first game after missing three games due to back spasms. Nembhard's involvement was key, as his availability for the game was revealed quite late, with the prior belief being that he would have to sit out his fourth straight game, leaving TJ McConnell with backup point guard duties, a task that he has not exactly excelled in this year.
However, Nembhard played very well, especially for someone coming off injury. In addition to putting up 13 points on 6/13 shooting, he also played fantastic defense in the fourth quarter and made life very tough on scorers such as Jaden Ivey, who shot 1/4 in the fourth quarter.
Nembhard's late addition to the active list paid dividends by the end, revealing how much his contributions meant to the Pacers, whose defense struggled even more than usual with him out of the rotation.
The best contribution is, of course, saved for last, as Bruce Brown's defense was the most important factor. Following a 22-point first half from Cade Cunningham, Rick Carlisle made the adjustment to put Brown as his main defender, and the effects were clear in the box score and even more from the game film.
After a 7/15 first half, Cunningham only managed nine points on 3/11 shooting in the second half with Brown as his primary defender. This adjustment was key to winning the game, but Brown did more of his fair share outside of just containing the Pistons' deadliest scorer.
Brown was instrumental in sparking Indiana's fourth-quarter run, with two big steals down the stretch to get the Pacers some extra possessions and points, eventually leading to them taking a huge lead that they would not relinquish.
Overall, Indiana's defense in the second half, mainly the fourth quarter, was outstanding and a major positive from their win against Detroit. Going forward, it will be interesting to see what changes Carlisle makes to the lineup, if any, and if we see the Nembhard/Mathurin/Brown/Turner lineups make a comeback.
Out of every lineup combination the Pacers have tried out, this one has had the most success defensively, and if Nembhard is playing off-ball with Haliburton at the point guard and Brown playing small-ball power forward, this could be looked at as a potential starting lineup against electric offensive teams.
This is most certainly something to look into as the season moves on, and definitely something Indiana should look to revisit come playoff time if Jarace Walker still hasn't cracked the rotation yet.